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  • Writer's pictureTunbridge Wells Alliance

End of the independents?

Nick Pope

2024 Local Election

The May 2024 borough council elections in Tunbridge Wells were always going to be different for two reasons: they were the first all-out local elections for a long time and a general election was on the horizon.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections are normally by-thirds, meaning that one in three of the council seats are contested three years out of every four with county council elections taking place in the fourth year. Tunbridge Wells is the only district in Kent that still elects by-thirds.

This year, the national parties were shifting their focus onto the general election. One party, the Liberal Democrats, has been working harder than the others because Tunbridge Wells is a Westminster target seat for them.

Liberal Democratic Party membership in Tunbridge Wells has been growing since Brexit and since the seat became a Westminster target. The local party has been receiving additional funding from the central office; their Westminster candidate has been campaigning and canvassing voters across the constituency for 18 months; a continuous flow of leaflets has been dropping through our doors; and a very visible campaign office was opened in Tunbridge Wells in August 2023.

With increasing media coverage on the general election and increasing activity by the national parties because of the general election, more of the voters’ focus was on Westminster rather than the borough council.

When it came to the borough council election campaigns, local party candidates were being outgunned as the national parties were building up or testing their general election campaigning machine. The national parties had been building up the number volunteers, some also bringing in volunteers from outside the borough for the local elections, and one Party Leader, Ed Davey, visited the borough twice in the weeks leading up to polling day.

A local party, however well organised, cannot match the resources of a national party, especially a national party that has decided the constituency is a Westminster target seat.

Considering all this, local, independent party candidates did well. Local parties did not win every seat they hoped to win, but they held on to enough seats to have a local and independent voice for residents. Tunbridge Wells Alliance (Alliance) held four seats and was runner up in three. David Hayward, another independent, also held on to his seat.

In total, local, independent parties now have 5 seats (13%) on the borough council, the equivalent to where Alliance was in 2019, and more seats than the Liberal Democrats had for many years prior to 2019.

More Work To Do

Some people say that Alliance’s work was completed in 2019 when the Calverley Square project was terminated. The work is definitely not complete. The party was founded by two separate groups, one group’s focus covered a wide range of issues around planning and infrastructure which require a lot more work to achieve positive changes for residents and communities in the borough.

For example, when a developer is planning a major development, it is not acceptable that their only engagement with the community is an exhibition of their final design with a questionnaire about what we think about it. That is not engagement. Developers need to engage with communities before they start any work on a design. Their teams, working in Croydon, Birmingham or Manchester, do not know or understand our communities.

Communities need to be involved in shaping new developments from day one, through the whole design process, and continuing into decisions about the management of the completed development.

Hard Working & Honest

One thing that has made Alliance councillors stand out is that they work hard for their communities, provide honest and balanced information to residents, and help to enable residents to understand how things work and do more for themselves.

The Alliance has always aimed to provide honest information on election leaflets and challenges other parties to be more honest and not to print misleading or dishonest content purely to win votes.

With several experienced councillors recently losing their council seats, the Alliance has a more knowledgeable team working behind the scenes to support current councillors and build the party to better serve residents.

Future Local Elections

May 2025 will see the county council elections. Kent County Council is heavily dominated by the Conservative Party (73% of councillors) and would benefit with more local, independent councillors.

The next Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections are in May 2026. Unlike this year, the national parties will not be preparing for a general election, and Alliance will be working hard to win more seats on the council to push through positive changes.

If you would like to represent your community as an independent councillor or support the work we do, get in touch –

This article appeared in the Tunbridge Wells Business Magazine, June 2024 edition.

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